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NASCAR Preview: Time dwindling for the winless

By NASCAR Media
EMAIL STORY CONTACT EDITOR PRINT
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With five races to go to the Chase, Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen could prove to be a wild card for drivers hoping to make the cut. / Photo: John Harrelson/NASCAR via Getty Images
WATKINS GLEN, NY - Five races on five very different tracks.

That’s what faces the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. For 11 drivers, it’s all or nothing time. For those 11 drivers with wins – and therefore a likely Chase spot – a victory means three more bonus points tacked onto their total to start the Chase.

But, really, these next five races are all about the winless. There are some big names out there battling for their playoff lives – Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle. If the Chase started today, only Biffle would make it among the three perennial Chasers.

So while this might not be panic time, there’s a definite sense of urgency – and a big, shiny opportunity on Sunday afternoon.

For some, Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen might be the last best hope at a spot in NASCAR’s playoffs. Here’s a look at some of the favorites, and their chances:

Marcos Ambrose: The series’ unofficial “road course ringer” has waited for this opportunity since his eighth-place finish at Sonoma (which, for him, might as well have been a 38th-place finish). However, put the Glen a notch above Sonoma in the Ambrose track hierarchy. He’s won two of the last three races there, and besides a wreck-marred 31st place finish last season, he has never finished worse than third.

Tony Stewart: The king of Watkins Glen, Stewart boasts five wins at the Glen, the most all-time at the update New York road course. His last two finishes were outside the top 10, but he has scored a driver rating above 100 in six of the last seven races at Watkins Glen.

A.J. Allmendinger: Last year, Allmendinger went 2-for-2 at road courses in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, so he knows how to win at this style. At Watkins Glen, he’s finished in the top 10 in each of the last three races. He led 35 laps at Sonoma before finishing 35th.

Martin Truex, Jr.: He could sneak up on the field in this one. The 2014 season has been mostly a slog for Truex, but one win could erase all ills. Currently 26th in points, a win is pretty much the only means of advancement into the Chase. It’s not impossible. After all, he won last year at Sonoma and finished in the top 10 in each of the last three Watkins Glen races (including third last year).

Kasey Kahne: Kahne has a Sonoma win on his record, but it’s a different story at Watkins Glen. In 10 starts there, he has yet to score a top-10 finish. He has a ton of momentum on his side, however, with five top-10 finishes in the last seven races.

Greg Biffle: Biffle is coming off only his third top five finish of the season. That’s the good news. The not so good news: With an average finish of 23.1, the Glen ranks as his worst track.

You know who’s NOT rooting for any of the above drivers? Guys with one win. Let’s explain…

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick have all clinched a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, assuming they attempt to qualify for the remaining five races.

A number of scenarios can play out this weekend at Watkins Glen in terms of future clinches.

If there is a repeat 2014 winner this weekend, any driver with one win and a locked-up top 30 spot will clinch a spot in the Chase. Potentials: Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch.

Why? Well, there would be 11 different winners with four races to go. The maximum number of different winners could then be 15. No matter what, a winner would lock up a spot – even in the unlikely event the points leader is winless.

If there is a new winner, all bets are off. Kyle Busch, the highest ranked of the one-win drivers, could potentially lock up a spot with only one win (though it would be difficult). If currently winless Matt Kenseth wins, he could be high enough in points to clinch a spot, even though it would be his first win. Same applies to Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer. For Kenseth, Newman and Bowyer, a win would clinch them if they have enough points to guarantee a points position ahead of the lowest ranked winner after Richmond.

WDUN will have live MRN Radio coverage of Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheezit 355 at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, NY beginning at Noon on 102.9 FM and at 1 pm on 550 AM.

NASCAR Nationwide Series: Elliott, Smith Lead Series To Watkins Glen

North of the bright lights on Broadway and just west of the Finger Lakes in the rolling hills of New York state heads the NASCAR Nationwide Series for its first of back-to-back road courses. First up, Watkins Glen International (Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is on deck). The challenge of the consecutive road courses on the schedule could significantly transform a competitor’s championship run, especially JR Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott and Regan Smith who currently sit 1-2 in the standings and hope to make it through unscathed.

Elliott’s rookie season is continuing to turn heads. In 20 starts, he has posted three wins (tied for the series-most with Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski), eight top fives, 14 top 10s and an average finish of 9.2. His NASCAR Loop Data backs his early success up even more; his season-to-date Driver Rating is 108.5 and his Average Running Position is 7.424 (both are second only to Kyle Busch). Though Elliott faces some uncertainty in making his series debut at Watkins Glen this weekend, he did well at the road course Road America earlier this season, finishing in the top-five.

Elliott can’t let up though. His rear-view mirror is full of a championship hungry Regan Smith. The two JR Motorsports teammates have swapped the series standings lead three times this season. Smith, who calls Cato, NY his hometown, has posted one win, four top fives, 17 top 10s (series-most) and an average finish of 8.9 this season. Smith has three starts at Watkins Glen, posting one top five and an average finish of 15.3 - he finished fourth in this event last season.

The JR Motorsports duo has built a small cushion of points (Smith in second is 10 points ahead of third) between their nearest competitors, but the slightest mistake these next few weeks could open the door for third-place Elliott Sadler and fourth-place Ty Dillon.

Sadler continues to follow in lock-step with the JR Motorsports twosome of Elliott and Smith. He sits just 12 points back from the series lead after posting one win, five top fives, 14 top 10s and an average finish of 9.5 this season. Sadler has made five series starts at Watkins Glen, posting one top-five and two top-10 finishes; including his fifth-place finish last season.

With the momentum of his first series career win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and following it up with a top-five at Iowa last week, Dillon has focused his sights on a legitimate championship run. Dillon, like Sadler, also is just 12 points back from the standings lead after posting one win, three top fives and 14 top 10s. This will be his series debut at Watkins Glen. He finished 19th at Road America earlier this season.

WDUN will have live MRN Radio coverage of Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, NY beginning at 1:45 pm on 102.9 FM.

NASCAR Camping World Trucks: Nemechek Strikes Up Friendly Rivalry

A father-son rivalry is brewing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Joe Nemechek and his son John Hunter, who share the No. 8 SWM-NEMCO Motorsports Toyota Tundra SWM, have adopted a “friendly family challenge” this season, comparing finishes and laps led. Surprisingly, the 17-year-old has held his own against his father, who won the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 1992.

The elder Nemechek owns the top finish with a third-place performance at Texas Motor Speedway, but John Hunter has been close with two sixth-place runs. John Hunter takes bragging rights with 53 laps led compared to his father’s four.

And together, the Nemechek’s have helped SWM-NEMCO Motorsports hold the sixth spot in the owner points rankings (383).

The Nemecheks split time in the No. 8 SWM-NEMCO Motorsports Toyota Tundra because John Hunter can only compete on road courses and tracks that are 1.25 miles or less due to NASCAR’s age policy (a driver must be 18 or older to drive on track longer than 1.25 miles). Joe has competed in six races, while John Hunter has driven in five. If all goes according to plan, John Hunter will race in five of the final 11 events on the series, while Joe will take the reins for the other six.

Joe competed in the last series event, the Pocono Mountains 150 at Pocono Raceway, posting his fourth top-10 finish in six starts this season. The younger Nemechek owns three top-10 finishes and has eclipsed a 100-point driver rating twice in his five starts.

Joe will pilot the No. 8 for his first series start at the two-mile Michigan International Speedway in the Careers for Veterans 200 on Aug. 13. He has competed only in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series at the track during his career. John Hunter’s next start in the series will come the following race on the .533-mile oval course at Bristol Motor Speedway in the UNOH 200 Presented by ZLoop on Aug. 20.
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